Rethinking Neurodiversity, with Tim Goldstein | EDB 223



Autism self-advocate Tim Goldstein discusses the concept of being “neurodistinct”.

(24 minutes) Diagnosed with Asperger’s at 54, Denver-based consultant Tim Goldstein is a Neurodiverse Communications Specialist –the only one doing what he does. He trains all types of employees including those who are neurodiverse and maybe autism how each other functions. With deep experience in business and consulting, Tim, helps companies recognize and overcome the challenges integrating the neurodiverse. Using his Neuro Cloud™ concept, he explains the Spock-like logical approach common among the neurodiverse. Tim has lectured on his concepts at Cornell and presented them at Vanderbilt. His book, Geeks Guide to Interviews: 15 Critical Items for the Technical Type, is available to help people better understand challenges to the autistic in the workforce.

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Welcoming Tim Goldstein

DR HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi! I am Dr. Hackie Reitman and welcome to another episode of exploring Different Brains. Today, we are very lucky to have self-advocate and neurodiverse communications specialist Tim Goldstein with us. Tim, welcome to exploring Different Brains.  

TIM GOLDSTEIN (TG): Hey, I’m certainly glad to be here. You know, from having read everything you’ve done, I’m really excited to actually have a chance to finally talk with you.  

HR: How are things going out there in Colorado?  

TG: Well, you know, Colorado specifically, we’re doing compared to, I think overall in the country, we’re doing fairly well right now. You know our forest fires aren’t threatening major metropolitan areas, which is good, and you know, Covid-wise, we’re in fair shape compared to some states, so you know, what can you say? It’s vacation-haven out here right now, Colorado is always a great place.  

HR: Now, explain to our audience, because this is a new term to me, alright, a neurodiverse communication specialist –  

TG: It’s actually, again, much like you know many things with autistic individuals, it’s very literal to be honest with you. So obviously, “Neurodiverse”, meaning we’re talking about people that think all different kinds of ways, and “Communication”, you know, obviously pretty straightforward; and “Specialist”, meaning what I help is, people who think in different ways to understand and communicate with each other effectively.  

HR And you’ve trademarked the term “Cloud Neurodiversity”. Can you expound upon that?  

TG: Yeah, there’s the concept of neurodiversity, of course that Judy Singer in Australia came up with, and you know she had mentioned it, basically it was a brief mention in her thesis paper, the paper wasn’t about it, it was just something along the way that she mentioned in it. And, the term neurodiversity certainly has caught on, and, you know, kind of leading this whole movement towards people who think different of just being different thinkers, not being broken humans. But the problem that I was running into is, first off, as you go and look at it internationally, different regions seem to use a little bit different terms in different places, so we don’t have a consistency in how we explain it all. The other problem is, of course, Judy was writing this for a thesis paper. It was written in an academic terminology which is sometimes difficult for general populace to approach when it’s a very academic thesis. So, I went through and really took what she said because the concept of “thinking differently” is just meaning “you think differently, not that there’s anything wrong with you” is a very strong concept ;but what I saw was it was challenging to explain to people. Different people would call the same things different words, and a lot of the words were somewhat challenging to approach and understand unless you were in the field. So, I went into and created essentially, what I would say is, the “marketing version of Judy’s concept of neurodiversity” and that’s what I trademarked under the Neuro-Cloud concept of making it a very simple, very easy way to explain neurodiversity, that anybody should be able to walk away and say “Oh, I get the idea”, maybe not the details, it’s not a PhD course, the idea is to just open their mind that there’s more out there than maybe they were thinking about. And that’s it, it’s just really a very simplified, easy to convey way, that I can convey in graphics with pictorials, so people can pick up on it easier.  

HR: What a novel idea it is to keep things simple, you know?  

TG: You know, that is one of things, of course, I’m sure you’re aware and many of your listeners are probably aware, that as an autistic individual, and I fall under what would have been called Asperger’s back, before we had ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), it’s not unusual for us to want to explain things in, I wouldn’t say a complex way, but in a very detailed and thorough way, which for a lot of people means “complex” because they didn’t really want to know all of that about it. When they asked you at the party, “what do you do for work?”, they didn’t really want to know everything you do at work, they just wanted to know I’m a computer programmer -that was it. And fortunately, I have a business background with marketing, so I recognize that to communicate you’ve got to put it at the level that people can relate. That was really the idea of the Neuro-Cloud concept is it’s an easily relatable concept, instead of it being in these academic words that nobody knows what they mean. I mean, what does neurodivergent mean? It sounds like I’m going to get a disease from it!  

HR: (laughs)  

TG: So I replaced it with “neuro- distinct”, because everybody wants to be distinct and guess what, you can say “neuro-distinct” and everybody gets that right away – “oh, they think different, distinctly different than everybody else – wow I get that!”; but, “neurodivergent” – do I need a mask? Is it dangerous? (laughs)  

HR: (laughs) You might get cooties from it, we don’t know (laughs).  

TG: Exactly! So, again, just from, you know, marketing, don’t use words that sound bad, that people don’t understand, because that’s not going to bolster your message, so, “make it easy to digest” is the whole purpose.  

HR: Now, you were diagnosed mid-life-  

TG: Well, I guess we call it mid-life now. Once upon a time, they would have called old-age, I think. I was diagnosed at 54, and I’m 60 now, so it’s 6 years down the road.  

HR: Okay, what were your previous diagnoses if any or what were your previous labels if any?

TG: I – (laughs) – don’t know if this is appropriate to say on here, it starts with an “A” and is synonymous with “jerk.” That was the most common label that was being applied by the non-medical community, and in the medical community – I had nothing to do with it. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me; the rest of the world was stupid, that was the problem.  

HR: (laughs) “The rest of the world was stupid”, very, very well said.  

TG: (laughs)  

HR: Tell us what a Certified High-Performance Coach, and Certified Master Presenter means.  

TG: Well, two totally different things, and very interesting how they fit into my whole path in doing this kind of stuff. A Certified High-Performance Coach is a particular type of a coaching to help people perform and do better, but it’s also probably the most academically researched type of coaching out there now, with actual proven studies that as you increase somebody’s ability (in the instrument they used to measure through the coaching), that their actual job performance increases. So High-Performance Coaching is just a methodology to the help people really overcome the challenges they have to get to where they want to go, but not focusing on it from a psychology standpoint, or whatever, focus on from a practical of – “okay, if you’re in Florida today and you want to get the Colorado, let’s start with getting you in your car.” You know, again, it’s a very practical approach to doing it, not a “let’s spend three years trying to figure out why.” Let’s just figure out what to do now, and “why” will probably come.  

HR: You know, when I wrote the Aspertools book, I made the analogy, that, you know I’m careful to warn people, you know, it’s not an academic thing, it’s just, kind of tools that help, you know, and a layman’s point of view, and, uh –  

TG: -right, and that’s very much what this is, and they teach very much in this style of coaching of, first off, push people. And then you got to push until you get a reaction because that’s why people want to be coached, to have something change. So, it is a very high performance – if you’re not the kind of individual that wants to be a high achiever, it’s probably not going to fit you because you probably won’t like it. The other part you asked about, the Certified Master Presenter, or a Master Presenter. That actually is one of the things that I think has made a huge, huge difference in my ability to communicate with individuals compared to before I did that studying. So, I kind of backed into “what it is”, kind of by “what it does”, and then we’ll get to “what it is.” Prior to doing this training as the Master Presenter, I spoke like a lot of autistic individuals in that I was extremely monotone. I went really, really fast. I didn’t use commas. I didn’t use periods, and if you couldn’t keep up with me – oh well, that was your problem. I just went right through, which we all know is fairly common amongst autistic individuals and other neuro-distinct individuals too, but it’s also not very effective in communication. So, what I went and did was, I went and studied with the best vocal coach in the world and he comes out of a musical background, so his concept –

HR: Who is that by the way? Who is that?  

TG: His name is Rodger Love. Rodger Love is in Hollywood, and to just give you an idea, he can say he comes with a singing background. Some of his current rank of artists are Selena Gomez and Maroon 5 and Eminem. Michael Jackson used to be one of his students, then going backwards, you’re in my era, Earth Wind & Fire, Journey, Chicago, Beach Boys, I mean he’s taught them all, he’s toured with them. And he also does quite a bit with film in Hollywood, for instance the “Walk the Line” movie about Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, which was Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. They did not know how to sing. What Rodger said was, Reese could get through “happy birthday” (barely) and Joaquin, mm-mm, not even happy birthday –  

HR: (laughs)  

TG: And he (Roger Love) had three weeks to get that whole soundtrack, and that soundtrack is those two people actually singing.  

HR: Wow  

TG: So, when I say he’s the best, I’m not joking, that he just really, honestly, is the best. And he taught me something that I refer to as emotional speaking. He doesn’t call it that, but the way he puts it is “what I need to teach you Tim, is how to put emotion into every word you say, so that the people on the other end feel (emphasized) it instead of just hearing it.” As an autistic individual, that is a little bit challenging because I don’t know what that right thing is, but by using his techniques, which are based off of singing – I mean we know in singing you can hear a melody in the background, you barely hear it, but it affects you, it affects your mood – so his point is, why can’t you just mix those singings, those melodies, those tonalities, into your speaking voice? And suddenly, people don’t even know why they’re being drawn to you, but the reality is you’re singing a song to them while you’re talking. And that’s what a Master Presenter is, it’s somebody who trains with him long enough, that he finally actually says “you’re accomplished, get out there and do it!” (laughs)  

HR: (laughs) That’s so interesting. After this interview, I want to look him up because I’m ignorant. I’ve not heard of him and was not aware of him. It sounds fascinating.  

TG: Absolutely fascinating, and as I’ve said, as an autistic individual, that communication piece, that flat-affect, no-emotion, so often leads people wrong – because, in my mind, neurotypicals are expecting those three channels. They expect tonality in your voice, they expect to see body or facial-type presentations, meaning and coloring your words. So, the problem is, now I know how to “color” them (words), before I didn’t.  

HR: You’re in color, you’re not “black and white.” But you know, that may be a good explanation I’ve never heard articulated, or thought of before, by why people wrongly assume that an autistic individual is not empathetic.

TG: Well, you hit a very good point, and I think there’s multiple threads to that. One, you’re 100%, you nailed it! We don’t come across as being empathetic because we don’t have suddenly the (voice rising and falling) “ohhhhh, I feel so bad, that is just terrible that happened to you” – well I know how to do it, because I’ve been trained (emphasis) how to do it, but that is not, just naturally, that I would do that. I’m doing it through –  

HR: Do you feel like you’re being a phony when you do it?  

TG: No, not at all. What I’m really doing is, I’m now using essentially the techniques of a voice actor to convey the message I want to convey, that neurotypicals do automatically. But when somebody who’s autistic you don’t have that connection unless you learn to implement it yourself.  

HR: You come at this from such a different angle because the way I’ve started looking at things, is again from a layman’s perspective, is “Different Brains” is, I wanted everything under one roof, neurological, developmental, mental health issues because you can’t have, for instance, autism without some anxiety, or a little bit of depression –  

TG: – or a lot of both [laughs]  

HR: –yes, and I’m just starting to look at things that we all have, for lack of a better term, I’ll call them “spectrum traits”, some have more and some have less.  

TG: I’m going to change that for you, I’ve got to interrupt you and change that one for you.  

HR: Sure.  

TG: There is no such thing as autism traits, there is no such thing as spectrum traits, there is no such thing as ADHD traits because we can go find neurotypicals that display every one of those traits. Not maybe all together in one combo, but we can find an individual that just can’t get organized like an ADHD person. Maybe they don’t have the rest of the traits, which proves it’s a human trait, we just might have them at a higher level. But, I think that’s one of the things we’ve got to get people to start thinking about it.  

HR: Yes  

TG: That this isn’t an autism trait you’re looking at  

HR: This is a human trait –  

TG: – that I have a high level or a low-level of maybe  

HR: Yes  

TG: If we approach it as a human trait, we are now looking at it as, “okay, we recognize that even in neurotypicals that trait does have a range of what it is.” Now I might be beyond that range on the plus or minus, but that doesn’t turn it into an autism trait, it’s still a human trait, I just may have a little bit more of it. This individual is showing a group of these traits that we need to work with, not that it means that they’re autistic. Who cares what it means? It means these are the challenges. So, I actually talk about it a lot through a concept I call “interactional alignment.” On my blog, there’s a little instrument people can go take the test and get their own results back and it’s completely private, you get a secret code and without that secret code nobody can find your stuff ever again.

The idea of interactional alignment is if you’re going to put a person in a particular situation, and the job I do is a very public-facing job, I work in Professional Services and I train everything from our technical people through CEOs, and if you’re going to put somebody into that type of environment where they have to interface a huge amount with outside the organization, then you want to have certain alignment, you want them to be able to speak in real time. Well, we know some autistic individuals and other neuro-distinct individuals have challenges that they process a little bit before they can respond, not that they don’t respond with a phenomenal response if you just give him a little bit of time, but people kind of mark you off, or mark you down at that one. So, I think it is so important that people look at it as being human traits, and how do we get this human trait to be within a range that is considered normal? Not that we have to get rid of this autistic trait. No, no, no, you have to back it down baby, or if it’s this social interaction part, we maybe need to bump it up.  

HR: It’s different traits, so that if we were had a basketball team the trait of being extra tall would be good.  

TG: Exactly and that’s what we’re trying to say, is it’s not because I’m autistic that I’m broken because I have challenges in social situations, which I do, I do have challenges in social situations. But, what do I bring to the table that somebody else doesn’t bring to the table? What I bring is, data is my specialty, business data, data warehouses, business intelligence, data analysis, I tend to see patterns,  

HR: What advice would you have for those of us in the audience whose brains are a little bit different, one piece of advice to them?  

TG: I would say the biggest piece of advice, and it’s going to be challenging for a lot of people, is anybody you talk to, you should say it. That’s who you are. Let everybody know that’s who you are, stop hiding it. When I was first diagnosed, and this is probably not uncommon for anybody diagnosed once they’re old enough to have a self-image, so by like 9, 10 [years old], on up. Once you’re diagnosed, the general tendency at first, is to not accept the diagnosis, “no, I’m not autistic, no way in heck I’m autistic!” And then eventually you kind of slide into it, and start realizing it does fit you, and “wear” quite well as a matter fact, and, explained a lot of the challenges that you’ve had over time. I came to the conclusion about four years ago when I was finally feeling comfortable enough of just “I didn’t care who it was, they’re just going to hear about autism,” that’s what I came to the conclusion and it’s made a big turning point in my life. I virtually never have a conversation with anybody, and it can be the telemarketer on the phone even, they are going to hear about autism before I get off that phone!  

HR: [laughs] They deserve it!  

TG: Well, not only do they deserve it, but you know what’s happened, is when you say things, you bring up something autistic. So, maybe I’m in a meeting that I’ve never been in, and I’m going to speak, and I say “Hey, by the way, I’m autistic, if I keep carrying on, interrupt me, I’ll be fine.” I’m dropping the hint of letting them know, “Okay I may go on too long, and I’m fine if you interrupt me, and here’s why I’m that way.” It’s amazing though, when you do that, afterwards how many people will come up and say “I’ve got an autistic child”, or “ I know somebody with an autistic child”, or “how can I help you with this, I’m autistic myself”, so that’s why I say, you have to say it.

I guess it’s a lot like being LGBT back in 1960s, it wasn’t safe to say it, but until people go to the point that they started saying it, it couldn’t become normalized. And that’s almost where we are here, nobody wants to stand up and have a conversation about – I’ll give you an idea of how crazy it is – I’m buying a whole bunch of microbiology supplies because I decided I was going to learn synthetic biology because I think it’s going to be a great career for autistic individuals down the road. I’ve been growing human kidney cells, and making bacteria glow, and doing all this microbiology at home. You can learn microbiology by yourself at any age. So, at any rate, I’m dealing with this gentleman who is an hour and a half away, and he managed to pick up a lab that they were cleaning out, so there’s a lot of great deals, and some pieces I’d like to have. Well, guess what, he got to hear about autism, and do you know what his answer back in the email was? “Can you tell me some more about this? This is really interesting.” I’ve never had anybody say “I don’t want to hear about that autism crap.” So, my experience has been, as long as you’re comfortable with being identified that way, the amount of people whose support you get by opening your mouth and saying that you’re autistic and work in that realm, the more help you get. The ones who don’t open their mouths are the ones who are now going to get judged as being neurotypicals, and then they’re going to be considered “defective neurotypicals” because nobody stood up and said “No, that’s not me, this is who I am.”  

HR: Have we got a good sense of who Tim Goldstein is today, and I want to thank you for this.  

TG: You are more than welcome.  

HR: This was great.  

TG: I’ve got to bring up one thing that’s real fast. When I read your book, this is just one of those things that stuck with me, and I’m going to give you an alternate explanation. I’m not saying it’s the “right” explanation, I’m just going to give you an alternate one. You had mentioned that your daughter, at times, would take a while to respond sometimes, that her brain would process slow, is kind of the way you would phrase it. My alternate [explanation] is, no, the problem is as autistic individuals, we build our world from details and from the minor facts, and we build up to a generalization, versus most people start at the generalization and they work down as deep as they need to get, and then they stop. So, I actually say when you run into a lot of autistic individuals, and ask them a question, and it takes them 20 30 seconds to come back with a good response, they’re trying to figure out all those details and trying to put them in a way you might understand without making you feel like an idiot. That’s what’s taking so long, it’s trying to condense all that knowledge down to a way I can deliver it, not that my brain isn’t going fast, it’s probably going three times as fast as anybody else. I’m just trying to process way more data to get down to “Okay, I’m not going to tell you everything about business intelligence, I’m going to tell you this is the value it might have for what you doing.”  

HR: What is the single biggest piece of advice you would give an employer about the neuro-distinct individual?  

TG: The single biggest thing I would tell an employer when they’re dealing with a neuro- distinct individual and truthfully, this would be any individual, is, don’t deny their reality. What they experience is what they experience, even if it’s different than you, it’s still their experience. So just say, “I can see that, but maybe this is a better way,” because when you deny my reality, you push my hot button.  

HR: Tim Goldstein, it’s been such a pleasure, thank you so much for being here with us today, thank you.  

TG: Thank you for having me and helping me get the message out, because you’re doing a great job in getting the message that people are different, and, that’s normal.